Michigan Association of School Administrators

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Member Blogs

Blog Authors

David Britton, Godfrey-Lee
Rich Franklin, Athens
Scot Graden, Saline
Tony Habra, Paw Paw
Jerry Jennings, MASA
Michele Lemire, Escanaba
Vickie Markavitch, Oakland
Steve Matthews, Novi
Mike Paskewicz, Northview

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Jeb Bush's Misguided View of Education Reform

Written by David Britton on Nov 23, 2014
Jeb Bush's opening address to National Summit on Education Reform | Tampa Bay Times

Education reform is about renewing this country. It is about protecting and promoting the right to rise. We all know the challenge we face: Schools run by entrenched monopolies, more intent on serving the adults who work there than the kids who learn there. What he doesn't mention is that he's for schools run by entrenched corporations, more intent on enriching the CEO's who run them than the kids who learn there.

#FutureReady Requires a "National Highway Program" to Ensure Internet Connectivity for Every School

Written by David Britton on Nov 23, 2014
Implied within the Future Ready District Pledge that has now been signed by over 1,200 superintendents across the country is the necessity of ensuring every school and every student has access to high-speed Internet connectivity. Without it, much of the seven commitments contained in the pledge have little chance of being successful.

I was somewhat taken back by President Obama's claim during our session with him that less than two out of every five schools have access to high-speed broadband Internet.
Right now, fewer than 40 percent of public schools have high-speed Internet in their classrooms — less than half. That’s not good, since we invented the Internet.  That’s not good. It means that in most American schools, teachers cannot use the cutting-edge software and programs that are available today. They literally don’t have the bandwidth.I’ve said before, in a country where we expect free Wi-Fi with our coffee the least we can do is expect that our schools are properly wired.  Looking back at his ConnectED plan released two years ago, the goal is for 99% of schools to be connected within five years. Given that we're less than three years from his self-imposed deadline, I'd say we have a lot of work to do as a nation to achieve that goal.

During the President's remarks, he noted that several other countries are substantially outpacing us in providing high-speed connectivity even at speeds many times higher than we experience in the U.S.  Susan Crawford, law professor and telecommunications policy expert, makes the claim that, "(I)n cities like Seoul and Stockholm, high-speed, high-capacity networks are taken for granted. 'It really is astonishing what's going on in America,' she says. 'We're falling way behind in the pack of developed nations when it comes to high-speed Internet access, capacity and prices.'"

The blog site Speed Matters argues that by falling behind in high-speed connectivity, we're doing damage to our economy at a level that may be difficult to overcome if as a nation we don't take positive action soon. Specifically regarding education, the site claims:
High speed Internet enhances every level of education from kindergarten through high school to college to graduate school. Advances in information and communications technology means that education is no longer confined to the classroom. New broadband-enabled educational tools allow for remote collaboration among fellow students on projects, videoconferences with teachers and real-time video exploration of faraway areas. The educational advantage possible with high speed Internet has become indispensable to students preparing to enter the 21st Century workforce. Those students with limited or no access in their formative elementary school years are falling behind. Computer skills must go beyond technical competency, to include higher-level skills such as critical thinking and problem solving as well as the creative use of technology. The earlier every student in America is connected to high speed Internet, the brighter our country’s future will be.So it seems clear to me after spending time with the President, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, and high-level administration folks this past week, a national effort on par with Dwight D. Eisenhower's federal highway act is likely the only way we're going to catch up, ensuring every school and community is connect to the high-speed Internet highway. In a special message to Congress on February 22, 1955, President Eisenhower noted that:
Our unity as a nation is sustained by free communication of thought and by easy transportation of people and goods. The ceaseless flow of information throughout the Republic is matched by individual and commercial movement over a vast system of interconnected highways criss-crossing the Country and joining at our national borders with friendly neighbors to the north and south. Together, the uniting forces of our communication and transportation systems are dynamic elements in the very name we bear--United States. Without them, we would be a mere alliance of many separate parts.One can easily see the parallels to our current world whereby the Internet has become a critical -- some may even say most important -- part of our economic and communication infrastructure, similar not only to our highway transportation network but also our telecommunications network that spans the country. Neither of these two networks were left to the whims of states, local communities or private enterprise.
Eisenhower noted four key reasons why Congress needed to get onboard with his highway plan. He knew that failure to move ahead with his initiative would mean another half century before the highway network reached any level of reasonable efficiency or connectivity.  I've boiled those four down to illustrate two reasons for today's need to push for universal high-speed Internet access on a national scale. If we don't we'll continue to experience:
  • Growing economic loss due to a fractured system and inequitable access by communities, schools and students.
  • Inability to keep pace with future technological growth and change, with their ultimate impact on communications, demand for access, and college/career readiness.
In the June 2006 issue of American History, Logan Thomas Snyder noted that:(T)he interstate system, more than any other project in the past 50 years, has encouraged an unprecedented democratization of mobility. It has opened up access to an array of goods and services previously unavailable to many and created massive opportunities for five decades and three generations of Americans. It has made the country more accessible to itself while also making it safer and more secure, outcomes that in almost any other undertaking would prove mutually exclusive. ‘More than any single action by the government since the end of the war, this one would change the face of America,’ Eisenhower wrote in 1963. ‘Its impact on the American economy — the jobs it would produce in manufacturing and construction, the rural areas it would open up — was beyond calculation.’ The clarity of his vision and the resiliency of his words are inarguable. The Eisenhower Interstate System has grown to be valuable beyond its original intent and is a lasting tribute to American ingenuity, ability and strength of purpose. I believe it's time for a national effort replicating Eisenhower's vision by ensuring that by the end of President Obama's five-year ConnectEd plan, all schools and every community are fully connected to high-speed Internet with sufficient bandwidth to support access to a variety of technology tools by every student and their families. Only then will America move forward with Future Ready schools for every child.

Why high school students inspire me

Written by Steve Matthews on Nov 22, 2014
On Thursday I walked into a Novi High School Biology classroom and watched as students and the teacher worked through a discussion about cell division. One of the students participating actively was a student I had seen the previous Tuesday evening working as part of her high school volleyball team as they won their match that sent them to the state semifinals.
I saw this student again last night as her team stormed back to win their state semifinal match. Today they play for the state championship.
High school students are amazing!
The boys cross country team at Novi High School was academic all-state with a combined team GPA of over 3.9.
On Thursday I walked into the TV production studio at Novi High School and watched as students directed, broadcast, and problem-solved their way through a live news broadcast. 
Just down the hall I had left a dance classroom where students practiced their  latest dance performance. Later that morning I saw one of the students who was in that dance class working her way through chemical notation in her chemistry class.
Upstairs students were working their way through primary source documents in AP US Hustory. 
Back down on the first floor I saw students putting together a lawnmower engine that they had recently taken apart. As I watched one of the students approached me and joked about how slick the roads were that morning. Smiling he wondered if we should close school.
High school students are so much more confident, skilled, and capable than I was in high school. 
We hear a lot about high school students - some not very complementary. I'm here to say that the high school students I see amaze me. 
I know high school students make some interesting and dubious choices at times. So do adults. 
What I see are wonderful students who need deeply committed adults in their lives to help them continue to become all they dream of becoming.
High school students - all students - truly are amazing!

Ed Week: Study Gauges 'Risk Load' for High-Poverty Schools

Written by David Britton on Nov 22, 2014
Study Gauges 'Risk Load' for High-Poverty Schools - Education Week

Poverty is not just a lack of money. It’s a shorthand for a host of other problems—scanty dinners and crumbling housing projects, chronic illnesses, and depressed or angry parents—that can interfere with a child’s ability to learn. If you think about the community context, you would be able to better understand when students come into the school building, what they are carrying with them,” said Kim Nauer, the education research director of the Center for New York City Affairs at The New School, and an author of the study. “From a child-development perspective, it’s not status that disadvantages you or advantages you. It’s your experiences … abuse or homelessness. … Some very concrete sets of experiences are more powerful predictors than free and reduced lunch,” Mr. Fantuzzo said. “We have to build capacities that make visible important, mutable variables that we can do something about.” “Everyone talks about the achievement gap and says, ‘Well, it’s up to the teachers to make these kids smarter.’ But if you look at the risk-load gap, it explains the achievement gap,” said Ms. Nauer of the Center for New York City Affairs. “So then, what do you do? You create a series of things within the classroom environment that are known to be protective or helpful to students who have these risks.”

11-14-14 MS visit

Written by Tony Habra on Nov 20, 2014

Middle School Visit 11/14/14

This past week I was in the middle school.  Middle school students are at an age where they are testing everything.  I am reminded of the time my then three-year-old now 16-year-old daughter walked over to the VCR (Can you believe that VCR’s were around then?) with half a peanut butter and celery stick in her hand.  I was across the room and said “Please stay away from the VCR.”  (It probably sounded more like “Ack! Don’t!” but we all have our own memories.) I distinctly remember her looking at me, just to make sure I was paying attention, and then calmly putting the celery stick in the slot.  Sigh. She was testing the limits and that is what middle school students do. Every day, in every class, with every teacher.  It takes a special kind of teacher to work in middle school.  The four I saw this week have the gift.

The first teacher I visited was Mr. Baleja.  He had the students working on bell-work while he was doing attendance and a couple other book-keeping activities.  The answer to the question he wanted written down (What is the difference between climate and weather?) could be found in the student’s notes, a fact that he reminded the students of while they pulled out paper and pencil and got to work.  There was noise and activity, but the students were doing what they were asked to do, all except for one student who was busy telling a friend about what he was planning for the weekend.  This student wasn’t talking loud and his friend was pulling out his own work.  Without looking up, or even seeming to stop what he was doing in any way, Mr. Baleja says “*****, have you taken your work out yet?” Sheepishly the student pulls out his work and starts.  The term in “education speak” is “with-it-ness,” but my mom always called it “eyes in the back of my head.” It’s one thing to be able to do that at home with one’s own children (and I wish I could, but fortunately my wife can), and quite another to do that in a class of 28 8th graders, one of six such groups being taught in the room every day.  Amazing!

The next teacher I saw was Ms. Jackson.  She was explaining the rules of a review game called “grudge ball.”  In this game the students were broken into groups and then competed to answer the math questions correctly.  Any group that solved the problem correctly could remove a check from a different team.  A team that answered correctly also had the chance to shoot a basket from one of two lines.  Making the basket allowed the team to remove one or two more checks, depending on which line was chosen.  The team with the most checks at the end wins.  As you might imagine the students were getting pretty excited.  (Frankly, so was I.  I wonder if she would have noticed if I took a shot?) As the excitement built, so did the noise level of the students.  For just a second, so did Ms. Jackson’s voice, but then she realized where this was going and said, in a quiet tone that students had to strain to hear: “We will not play until you listen to the rules.”  Five seconds later, in a just as excited, but much quieter, classroom, she finished explaining and the game began.  Now if I could only do that with my own children…

The third teacher I visited was Mr. DeWitt.  He had three activities going at the same time.  In the first row he would ask the students a question that they had to write down the answer to on a white board.  If they got it right they would move up a seat, if the student across from him/her also got it right they would rock/paper/scissor to see who moved up a seat.  By the time this all played out he was back to ask the next question. While the first group did that, he had a second group arranging the same information (questions and answers) in a sort of cut paper scramble.  In the third group he had the students working on computers in a sort of electronic flashcard process.  Mr. DeWitt moved from group to group as every student stayed active and engaged.  It was exciting and interesting and those students were learning!

The last teacher I peeked in on was Mr. McLeese.  Mr. McLeese teaches technology and recognizes that not every student has the opportunity to complete assignments at home.  In his class he had every student who had completed all assignments on an electronic list.  Those students who had completed their assignments could work on educational sites while the rest of them caught up on their work.  As soon as a student was finished with assignments, he/she too could move to web based educational sites.  At the same time Mr. McLeese was moving around the room helping those students who needed it and making sure of the appropriateness of the sites those who had completed the work were visiting.  The lesson accommodated learning styles while giving students an opportunity to catch up.  

The middle school student wants to learn.  They need just as much opportunity to be creative, expand the ability to think critically and be provided with the chance to show courage in the face of risks as any of our younger or older students.  Being able to provide those opportunities in a way that doesn’t devolve into chaos requires a special type of teacher, especially if we want our students College, Career and Community Ready!  I am very thankful we have them here at Paw Paw Middle School.  Teachers who, unlike me, keep the peanut butter out of the VCR in the first place.